55% of Americans Support Sports Betting in UMass Lowell Poll

UMass Lowell Washington Post Sports Betting Poll

55% of Americans support legal sports betting now, while only 33% oppose it.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell and the Washington Post released a poll which shows that 55% of Americans support the legalization of sports betting on professional games. The same poll found that only 33% of adults in the United States disapprove of legal sports betting.

The UMass Lowell and WaPo poll shows that the American people’s attitutes towards sports betting has changed significantly in the past 24 years, when a CNN-Gallup-USA Today poll was used to justify passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in the U.S. Congress.

Attitudes among young U.S. citizens supports legal sportsbooks more than the older generation. Americans between the age of 18 and 49 call for sports betting legalization and regulations by 62%. That indicates the current 55% poll number is likely to grow in the coming years.

“A Majority of Americans Now Favor Sports Betting”

Joshua Dyck, the co-director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion, said in a press release, “A majority of Americans now favor sports betting, but this is especially true among respondents younger than 50.”

In the 1993 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, 56% of the American adults polled said they support a ban on sports gambling. Those respondents were asked about their attitudes at a time that the United Stated Congress had passed the PASPA law, largely at the urging of the major US sports associations.

US Federal Ban on Sports Betting

Those attitudes had an effect on how sports betting was administered in the country at the time. PASPA was passed in 1992, with 4 states’ pro-gambling laws grandfathered into the new federal law. The other 46 states were given 1 calendar year to pass their own sports betting legalization measures, which would have been grandfathered into PASPA in the same way.

Because American voters did not support gambling legalization, none of those 46 states approved legalization efforts at the time. New Jersey came closest. Most followers of New Jersey politics said the votes existed in the General Assembly and Senate in order to pass legalized sportsbooks for Atlantic City, the then-head of the New Jersey General Assembly, Chuck Haytaian, refused to allow the bill to come to a vote.

PASPA’s Legacy on US Sports Betting

Over the years, New Jersey’s leaders have come to regret Haytaian’s decisions more and more. Atlantic City casinos had their peak year in 2006, but the news has been bad ever since. Nearby states, including Pennsylvania and New York, legalized land-based gambling, so fewer East Coast gamblers visited Atlantic City. The Global Recession of 2008-2009 and beyond hit Atlantic City hard, while Hurricane Sandy in 2010 further damaged the Garden State’s economy.

Atlantic City casinos began to fail in 2014. By that time, New Jersey’s lawmakers sought new revenue streams, such as sports betting and online gambling, to prop up the Atlantic City gambling industry. The US sports leagues, led by the NFL, NBA, and MLB, sued New Jersey. A 5-year legal battle ensued, which soon will come to an end with a U.S. Supreme Court decision. New Jersey has lost 5 separate court decisions over legal sports betting, but 19 other US states signed the sports betting amicus brief for the Supreme Court this time. Many believe the time for legal sportsbooks is here.

Geoff Freeman: “We Confronted a Lot of Fears”

American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman is one of those believers. Freeman said the US gambling industry is better organized than it was 25 years ago, while American society has changed.

Attitudes towards sports gambling are much different than they were in 1993. Freeman recently told the Washington Post, “As our industry expanded, we confronted a lot of fears, a lot of concerns, and what time has shown is that those fears and concerns were often misplaced.”

How American Attitudes Changed

The fears evaporated for several reasons. Two US states had land-based casinos in 1989. Due mainly to tribal gaming, 40 states have brick-and-mortar casinos now. Lottery betting is far more widespread and mainstream, with the Powerball and Mega Millions multi-state lottery associations active in 45 US states.

Sports betting is more prevalent, whether it is legal or not. The Internet makes it easy for American sports bettors to bet online, using either their desktop computers, Android smartphones, iPhones, or iPads.

The AGA estimates that 97% of sports betting done in America goes to unlicensed offshore operators, while only 3% place sports wagers in Nevada, Oregon, Montana, or Delaware. Las Vegas is the capital of US sports betting, but its turnover pales in comparison to the betting action with underground bookmakers, whether online or offline.

US Public Opinion on Legal Sports Betting

Prominent sports figures like NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, former NBA Commissioner David Stern, and former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent all have predicted sports betting would be legalized in the coming years. Current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he is open to new answers to the sports betting dilemma.

Whether any of that has an effect on the US Supreme Court is another matter. The groundswell of support, both in public opinion and popular support, is underscored by the UMass Lowell/Washington Post poll. Americans enjoy sports betting and think it should be legalized.

Those sentiments were best summed up by Daniel Wallach, a prominent sports gambling lawyer from Florida. Wallach told the Washington Post that sports betting advocates are “at the one-yard line, and it’s first-and-goal.”